Israel’s air strikes against the Syrian military on Wednesday were reminiscent in some ways of its security formula against Hamas in Gaza.
A selective use of force was deployed, enough to deliver a sharp message of deterrence, but not enough to spark a larger conflict.
This, security chiefs have determined, is the best way to lower the chances of another border attack by Hezbollah that can lead to a generalized regional flare-up.
Israel’s message behind the pre-dawn strikes is that, as the sovereign entity from which an attack on Israel emanated, and a co-conspirator which enabled Hezbollah to launch Tuesday’s border bomb, the Syrian regime will be held accountable, and should treat the strikes as a warning.
A repeat offense – in the form of additional Hezbollah attacks carried out from areas under the control of the Assad regime – will lead to harsher penalties.
This message is designed to leave the regime with little choice but to pull the plug on additional cooperation with Hezbollah in attacks against Israel from Syrian territory.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s focus is to continue making gains against the rebels, as he has been doing consistently with Hezbollah’s help in recent months. It is logical to assume that he would be loathe to risk those gains – or the very survival of his regime – for Hezbollah’s campaign of revenge against Israel.
Time will tell whether this limited but significant use of force – the most extensive strike on Syrian targets acknowledged by Israel since the start of the Syrian civil war – will achieve its purpose.
Either way, Hezbollah has sent its own message to Israel, that it will respond to alleged Israeli strikes on convoys of advanced arms if they occur in Lebanese territory.
The chain of events of the last few days all derived from the regional arms race, in which Hezbollah and Iran continue to try and bring game-changing weapons into Lebanon to target the Israeli home front, and Israeli efforts to stop them.
Now that this undercover battle has burst into the open, Israel is asserting its right to act according to the weapons ban it has put into place in Lebanon. But neither Israel nor its adversaries have an interest in entering a full-scale clash at this time.